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By Barb Delisio

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

In the ’70s, ’80s and even into the ’90s, terrariums were in vogue.

The size of the container determined the size and kind of the plant grown inside it.

Old fish tanks, fish bowls, brandy snifters, or any old glass jar, jug, or bottle was used.

An actual definition of a terrarium is a tightly closed clear glass container filled with small plants.

Today, terrariums have come to mean an open, transparent container for growing and displaying plants that would not normally adapt well in normal home atmospheres.

My terrarium is a replica of a Wardian case – a small glass replica of a garden shed.

Terrariums actually date back at least 2,500 years in Greece. Its invention is credited to Dr. N.B. Ward, a 19th century London physician. By accident, he discovered ferns would grow inside a closed bottle.

Ward continued his observations with other plants in containers and published “On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.” This led to the development of Wardian Cases.

Today, some dish gardens are called open terrariums. These require more frequent watering and don’t have the danger of disease build-up that closed terrariums can.

Closed terrariums retain humidity needed to grow certain plants. I grow Madenhair ferns in my closed terrarium.

Open terrariums are perfect for succulents. Hens & chicks, jade plants and others grow very well with little watering.

So how can you start your own terrarium? First, choose the plants you want to grow. Your plants should all need the same amount of moisture. For example, don’t mix desert plants with moisture-loving tropicals.

The type of plants will determine if you are going to need an open or closed container. Your container should be made of clear glass. Tinted glass greatly reduces the light inside your container and affects plant growth.

Now you need activated charcoal and/or pebbles for drainage and a growing medium. Usually a combination of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite make a good choice.

Wet the soil until it forms a ball when squeezed but does not drip water. You will need about 2 inches of soil. No fertilizer is needed. Place plants, roots in the soil, not crowded, in the container.

Once your plants are in the soil, mist the leaves to get any soil off them.

Do not put the lid on your terrarium for a few days until all the leaves have dried.

All plants need light, so place your terrarium near a sunny window. Direct hot afternoon sun will burn your plants.

My terrarium was initially planted about four years ago. About once a year I take out the large ferns that are touching the top of the container. There are always new little “babies” growing.

Usually I add a little bit of new soil, rinse off the leaves and begin again.

For complete details and instructions to build your own terrarium, go to

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